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T.J. Cluess leads Floral Park past Lawrence

TJ Cluess of Floral Park dribbles downcourt during

TJ Cluess of Floral Park dribbles downcourt during a Nassau Conference A-III boys basketball game against Lawrence on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Credit: James Escher

Injuries and allergies have been the staunchest opposition for T.J. Cluess. The junior on Floral Park’s boys basketball team missed all but two games last season with foot and back injuries. He has played in only three of the Knights’ last seven games because of a knee injury and a reaction to an unknown allergy.

“The doctor said I may never find out [what caused the reaction],” he said. “I just can’t catch a break recently.”

If Floral Park’s last two games can serve as any indication, Cluess appears healthy and ready to help the Knights turn the corner. He scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds Tuesday night as Floral Park defeated host Lawrence, 57-50, in Nassau A-III.

The Knights (4-3) had not won consecutive games this season, but the victory over the Golden Tornadoes (5-2) came on the heels of Saturday’s 72-40 defeat of Lynbrook. In that game, Cluess returned to the lineup to hit eight three-pointers and score 31 points.

“The last couple of games,” Cluess said, “we’ve been really starting to get our feet underneath us.”

With well-timed motion and ball movement, the Knights were methodical in finding open three-pointers and layups against Lawrence. Cluess hit three three-pointers, and Brian Fox (13 points) added two. Frank Phelan, who had eight points and six assists, was the maestro behind it all.

“[Phelan] is only a sophomore,” coach Sean Boyle said, “but his last three games he’s only had, like, three turnovers.”

After falling into an 11-8 hole on a layup by A’Dante Oliver (19 points), Floral Park got a layup from Mike Incantalupo and a three-pointer by Cluess to take a lead it would not relinquish.

The Knights’ defense against Sammy Robinson was critical in sustaining that lead. Robinson, a 6-5 forward with deep range, scored 17 points, more than eight below his average. Guards Jose Barcia and Jack Dixon chased him all over the floor and benefited from astute help defense that prevented Robinson from getting easy catches near the hoop.

“Sammy’s a great player,” Boyle said. “We knew that if we could kind of slow him down that it would slow their offense down, and it did.”

The win not only put the Knights above .500 in conference. It also proved a point. “We know if we can beat them,” Phelan said, “we can beat anybody.”

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